A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Lent 4 – The Light in Our Darkness

Healing the Man Born Blind, Robert Hodgell (1960)

Lent 4 2020
Rev. Doug Floyd
1 Samuel 16:1–13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:1–14, John 9:1–41

As we worship today, all of us feel the stress of our current cultural crisis. We hear daily reports about the danger, the spread, and the unpredictability of this present virus. We watch the stock market tumble and wonder if all our life savings are going up in smoke. We walk the empty grocery store aisles, and it feels as though our culture is in panic mode. Worst of all, we feel uncertainty, an instability about what tomorrow holds. 

Most humans struggle to live in a place of instability. Some of us have passed through severe losses like serious health problems, financial or employment uncertainty, but we have never seen this same kind of volatility on a broad social level before. These difficulties can cause stress, fear, and even a sense that the whole world is collapsing. 

As strange as it seems to us, this moment of cultural instability is not unique. There have been other times of disorder and chaos that have rippled through society or impacted a continent. Think of the wars that have plagued Europe in the 20th century and earlier centuries. Think of many in the African continent today who live in war zones, famine areas, or even areas recently inflicted by locusts. Think of the 70+ million people in our world who face the daily struggle of being a refugee with nowhere to go. Instability has been a way of life for many people across the centuries. 

The early Celtic and Anglo-Saxon saints lived unstable societies where war, famine, plague, and other terrors were a part of daily life. Compared to us, their lives were short and challenging. And yet, they left a legacy that helped shape a Christian culture across the British Isles and helped preserve books and learning for much of Europe. St. Cuthbert lived in the 7th century and died at the ripe old age of 53. He became “a figure of reconciliation and a rallying point for the reformed identity of Northumbria and England.”[1]

Much of what we know of Cuthbert comes to us through the Venerable Bede. “ In writing his account of Cuthbert, says Benedicta Ward, “Bede is using the Scriptures as a lens, but it need not be a distorting lens.”[2] She gives us a picture of a life soaked and shaped in Gospel rhythms. When his prior, Boisil is dying of the plague, he asks Cuthbert to replace him. In his last few days on earth, Boisil prepares Cuthbert to lead by teaching him from the Gospel of John. He wants Cuthbert to lead with “the faith that works by love.”

This story offers a rich picture of both considering today’s texts and considering our current cultural crisis. The Lord addresses us and is shaping us in His revealed love and in the communion of love between His people. We are being in immersed in the Triune community. And it from this place of loving communion we face a world in fear. 

Our Gospel reading begins with the vibrant statement by Jesus to His disciples, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5). He says this as he is healing a man born blind. Even as the disciples seek to determine who sin to cause this blindness, Jesus is healing the man. They, like the Pharisees, have misunderstood both Jesus and the suffering of those on the margins. But Jesus has to come to blind man and to all people on the margins with His light of life. 

Our first lesson stretches back to ancient Israel when Samuel is anointing David to be king. Samuel goes to a small marginal town: Bethlehem. He goes to the family of Jesse and asks to see his sons, but none of them is the one chosen by God. Finally, Jesse must bring in His youngest son from the fields tending sheep. David is a marginal son, in a marginal, in a marginal kingdom. Yet, the Lord will go through Samuel to the very edge the world, so to speak to call David, to anoint, and to prepare him to rule. It will be years before David grows into his calling as king, but along the way, he will hide in caves and even among Israel’s enemies the Philistines to survive the anger of King Saul. Yet the Lord does not abandon David in these difficult times but follows him into the darkness. 

Psalm 23 captures the sense of both of these stories, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (vs. 4). This image the valley of the shadow of death, communicates both physical dangers as well as existential dread. It describes the place of abandonment. Those at the edge of extinction. Those at the edge of society, such as refugees. Those collapsing into fear. The Light of the World enters into the darkness. Our Gospel story tells the story of Jesus walking so profoundly into the lives of the marginalized that eventually He is marginalized, cut-off, abandoned in the place of the dead. He enters into the absolute darkness of human sin. 

He comes to rescue the dead and dying. He comes to save us. There is no pandemic, no war, no darkness, no pain that is greater than His love. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood” (vs 13:12). He becomes the scapegoat. He enters into the place of the dead, the place of the accursed, so that He might bear the curse instead. Then the writer of Hebrews continues, “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (vs12:13). We follow Christ into the darkness as His lights in the world. 

Today there are doctors and nurses and even chaplains who are dying alongside their patients. They have followed Christ into the dark. Not all of us will play this specific role, but all of us will have opportunities to follow Christ into the darkness and the pain and even the shame of others. 

During this time of fear and panic, let us remember first that Christ is present by His Spirit and through His people. He has not forsaken us or our world. Let us also remember that we are His lights in this generation. May we be willing to follow as His lights wherever He calls us. 

[1] Michelle Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe, Volume 1, University of Toronto Press, Jan 1, 2003.

[2] Ward, Benedicta. Give Love and Receive the Kingdom: Essential People and Themes of English Spirituality (Kindle Locations 249-250). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.


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